The modern Western world is an increasingly feminized culture. The Christian is rightly offended by some of the more extravagant expressions of this culture, such as the abortion industry, or the spectacle of women literally “fighting our battles” for us, as, for example, Fr. Hollywood discusses so well.
Our culture has become so fundamentally defined by feminism, however, that we must consider the very real probability that even in the Church we cannot quite see the forest for what it is, since we sit in the midst of it, and our eyes are understandably focused on some of the more gruesome trees. Feminism has affected, infected, the very thought processes of our daily lives, to an extent of which we cannot know for sure. Therefore I suggest that it would be quite helpful for us to look back to examples of Christian manhood and womanhood in a premodern, more inherently Christian age.
This goes against what we are so often told, and maybe even the way we so often ourselves think, which is that the way men and women lived and related to each other in times past is utterly irrelevant to our lives today. We have evolved, ie, we know so much more than our ancestors knew, psychologically, medically, technologically, etc. Yet are we really more evolved?
Abortion has already been mentioned, and indeed, I imagine that most Christians would immediately say they are opposed to it as senseless killing. Yet, how far are we willing to think through the whole issue of life and reproduction, whether negatively or positively? On the negative side, for example, some preachers even proclaim in their sermons and teaching that there must be certain, albeit rare, exceptions to any abortion ban. The average “conservative” has been led in this country to think of such as only reasonable. On the positive side of the issue, we may ask, for example, just how open our marriages are to life. Too many Christians have bought in to the assumptions of the birth control culture, a mode of thinking that would have utterly appalled Luther.
Never mind Luther. He is ancient history. He is hopelessly medieval. Yet I fear that most Lutherans are unaware that today’s birth control mind set would have also shocked those who have gone not too long before us. If one consults the Missouri Synod web site’s “frequently asked questions,” one learns that the Missouri Synod does not have a position on birth control. Indeed, many Lutherans are taught that it would be Romanist to take a position on such a question. Once we decide it is okay to look beyond our own time for guidance, however, we begin to see that the Missouri Synod certainly seemed to have a position in 1917, if official Synod publications are any indication.
We have, for example, this from an article titled “Children” on page 82 of the March 20, 1917 issue of The Lutheran Witness: “But what shall we say of those couples who want no children, and who deliberately prevent their coming? The usual excuse is that the wife is not strong enough to pass through the ordeal. In nine cases out of ten that is a mere subterfuge, and the real reason is selfishness on the part of the woman-unwillingness to face the pains and trials of childbirth, or unwillingness to forego ease and pleasure for the sake of children. Is it any wonder if those who set God’s purposes at naught lead married lives that are unhappy because they are unblessed of God?-if the husbands lose all interest in their homes and their wives because these wives deny them the children for which they yearn?-if the wives, instead of assuring themselves care-free and pleasant lives, become nervous and physical wrecks? Whoever refuses the happiness that God offers him will seek other happiness in vain. Empty pleasure he may find and hollow enjoyment, but true happiness will avoid his threshold.”
Consider also the following, from an article titled “Birth Control a Curse” on page 196 of the June 26, 1917 issue of The Lutheran Witness: “The world is stricken with reform madness. To the reformers of our time nothing is so sacred that it must not be tampered with. Institutions that have grown old with the world and are of divine origin must needs submit to the activity of the “reformer”; nor can God expect anything else: where He Himself has been “reformed” out of existence, His institutions can hardly expect to be spared. One of the reformers of to-day makes the following statement: “It now seems to many people that the time has come to take childbirth out of the realm of chance, that the birth of human beings is too important to be left to irresponsible nature.” How wide -spread the reform movement referred to has become may be understood when the reformers assert: “Today men if high standing, scientists of international reputation, physicians, psychologists, political economists, sociologists, and literati advocate birth control as a counter-move against poverty and disease.”Every Christian will readily perceive that this “reform” is a curse to the individual and the State. Dwelling on this point, a Roman Catholic writer says: “Duty and conscientiousness are to throw their mantle of protection over practices that tamper with the very fountains of life and defy the will of the Creator to the destruction of individual, family, and State as exemplified in the fall of pagan Rome.”Church people are, however, not the only ones who are becoming alarmed at the activity of these reformers. The subject was discussed before a gathering of club-women at Chicago recently, and, addressing the club, Mrs. Leonora Z. Meder said the following:“Birth control is making us a retrogressive people, returning to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah.” “Birth control is immoral, degrading, and stupid. It is a perversion of a natural faculty; it logically and inevitably leads to deliberate childless marriages; it does not attain its purpose of human welfare, and leads to luxurious vice, compared to which the suffering involved in rearing children is a blessing, indeed.”
In regard to the natural order within married life, the Missouri Synod was not unwilling to give the following counsel in an article titled “Love and Obey,” on page 33 of the February 6, 1917 issue of The Lutheran Witness: “But I hear the modern ‘female rights’ advocate in strident tones: ‘Yes, that’s just the trouble with the Bible! It gives all the rights to the man, and has no use for the poor, down-trodden woman! According to the Bible women are to be slaves to men,’-and so forth, and so on.-Calm yourself, madam! I might point out to you that the Biblical relation between husband and wife seems also to be founded in nature; for all nations of which I have any knowledge, ancient and modern, savage and civilized, have adopted it, though many of them were ignorant of the Scripture warrant. I believe also that women in their hearts consider it the natural relation; for I have noticed that they despise a hen pecked husband above all other creatures, and that they resent as an insult the intimation that they themselves rule their husbands. But to dwell on these things would be hauling iron to Pittsburg; for when God has spoken, the matter is settled. And God has spoken clearly and distinctly.”
It seems that the Missouri Synod in 1917, the anniversary year of the Reformation, was, among other things, actively promoting a Christian view of life and boldly taking a stand against the rising culture of death, while the Missouri Synod today is actively attempting to convert a billion people (or whatever the magic number is) by the next anniversary year of the Reformation, to a faith that has no official position on sensitive matters such as this.
It is a stunning fact, which bears reflection, that no church, as far as I am aware, caved in to the assumptions of the birth control culture until the Anglicans did so at their Lambeth Conference in 1930.
As I stated earlier, and as these passages in Missouri’s recent past illustrate, it would do us much good to seek guidance from the wisdom and example of former times. The passages just quoted are from a time when the Church was beginning to put up a fight against the feministic onslaught. So it is very instructive for us, for in some ways our church has given up the fight. Yet it would be even better, as I have said, to go back even further, to a time before the fight against feminism was dreamed of, to a more purely Christian culture. (This I will do tomorrow by sharing here a letter I found from the seventeenth century.)